Atlanta metropolitan area
|Combined Statistical Area|
Midtown and Downtown Atlanta as seen from Vinings, Cobb County
Cumberland Area skyline
The Perimeter Center skyline
Map of Metro Atlanta
|• Metro||8,376 sq mi (21,694 km2)|
|• CSA||10,494.03 sq mi (27,179.4 km2)|
|Elevation||606 - 3,288 ft (185 - 1,002 m)|
|Population (2012 Estimates)|
|• Density||630/sq mi (243/km2)|
|• Urban||4,515,419 (9th)|
|• MSA||5,522,942 (9th)|
|• CSA||6,162,195 (11th)|
|Time zone||EST (UTC-5)|
|• Summer (DST)||EDT (UTC-4)|
|ZIP codes||300xx to 303xx|
|Area code(s)||404/678/470 inside the perimeter 770/678/470 outside the perimeter|
Metro Atlanta, designated by the United States Office of Management and Budget as the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA Metropolitan Statistical Area, is the most populous metro area in the US state of Georgia and the ninth-largest metropolitan statistical area (MSA) in the United States. It is the core of the broader Atlanta--Athens-Clarke--Sandy Springs Combined Statistical Area. Its economic, cultural, and demographic center is Atlanta, Georgia's capital and largest city. The Atlanta Combined Statistical area spans up to 39 counties in north Georgia and had an estimated population of 6.1 million people. Atlanta is considered an "alpha(-) world city". It is the second largest metropolitan region in the Southeast behind South Florida.
- 1 Definitions
- 2 Government and politics
- 3 Economy
- 4 Demographics
- 5 Geography
- 6 Transportation
- 7 Counties
- 8 Municipalities
- 9 See also
- 10 References
By U.S. Census Bureau standards, the population of the Atlanta region spreads across a metropolitan area of 8,376 square miles (21,694 km2) – a land area comparable to that of Massachusetts. Because Georgia contains more counties than any other state except Texas (explained in part by the now-defunct county-unit system of weighing votes in primary elections), area residents live under a heavily decentralized collection of governments. As of the 2000 census, fewer than one in ten residents of the metropolitan area lived inside Atlanta city limits.
A 2006 survey by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce counted 140 cities and towns in the 28‑county Metropolitan Statistical Area in mid-2005. Six cities – Johns Creek (2006), Milton (2006), Chattahoochee Hills (2007), Dunwoody (2008), Peachtree Corners (2011), and Brookhaven (2012) – have incorporated since then, following the lead of Sandy Springs in 2005.
The Atlanta metropolitan area was first defined in 1950 as Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Cobb and Clayton counties. Butts, Cherokee, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Henry, Newton, Rockdale and Walton counties were added after the 1970 census, with Barrow and Coweta counties joining in 1980 and Barrow, Bartow, Coweta, Paulding, Pickens and Spalding counties in 1990.
Atlanta's larger combined statistical area (CSA) adds the Gainesville, Georgia MSA, Athens-Clarke County, Georgia MSA and the LaGrange, Georgia, Thomaston, Georgia, Jefferson, Georgia, Calhoun, Georgia and Cedartown, Georgia micropolitan areas, for a total 2012 population of 6,162,195. The CSA also abuts the Macon and Columbus MSAs. The region is one of the metropolis' of the Southeastern United States, and is part of the emerging megalopolis known as "Charlanta" Piedmont Atlantic MegaRegion along the I-85 Corridor.
Government and politics
Georgia has the smallest average county size of any state which operates county governments. This focuses government more locally but allows greater conflict between multiple jurisdictions, each with its own agenda.
The first significant intergovernmental agency in metro Atlanta was the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, which runs the MARTA public transportation system. Alongside other factors such as race and class, as well as a lack of planning and perceived lack of need, problems associated with the inner city of Atlanta (crime, poverty, and poor public school performance) influenced Cobb, Gwinnett, and Clayton county voters to refuse MARTA into their respective counties during the 1970s, which has permanently altered land development in the region toward making automobiles even more of a necessity.
The Atlanta Regional Commission is so far the closest that the area has come to a metropolitan government. It only approves projects deemed to have an impact beyond the immediate area in which they are to be constructed. The Georgia Regional Transportation Authority is somewhat of a cross between ARC and MARTA, working to improve mobility, air quality and land use practices in the region. GRTA also operates Xpress buses from 11 counties, and could operate commuter rail service in the future. Currently, plans for commuter rail and eventual intercity rail (including the long-proposed but still unfunded Atlanta Multimodal Passenger Terminal) are the responsibility of the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority, which receives almost no funding.
The area is the world's largest toll-free calling zone spanning 7,162 square miles (18,549 km2), has four active telephone area codes, and local calling extending into portions of two others. 404, which originally covered all of northern Georgia until 1992, now covers mostly the area inside the Perimeter (Interstate 285). In 1995 the suburbs were put into 770, requiring mandatory ten‑digit dialing even for local calls under FCC rules. This made Atlanta one of the US's first cities to employ ten-digit dialing, which was begun by BellSouth the year before the Centennial 1996 Olympic Games. In 1998, 678 was overlaid onto both of the existing 404 and 770 area codes. Mobile phones, originally only assigned to 404, may now have any local area code regardless of where in the region they were issued. Area code 470, the newest area code, was overlaid with 404 and 770 in the same fashion as 678. The local calling area also includes portions of 706/762 and a small area of 256 in Alabama on the Georgia border.
The city of Atlanta is the most wired city in the United States. Many residents access the internet on a high-speed broadband and/or WiFi connection. It is home to one of the world's largest fiber-optic bundles.
Major petroleum and natural gas pipelines cross the area, running from the Gulf coast, Texas, and Louisiana to the population centers of the northeastern U.S. This includes Colonial Pipeline and Plantation Pipe Line, both based in Alpharetta.
Metro Atlanta primarily uses natural gas for central heating and water heaters, with the major exception of heat pumps in apartments built during and since the 1980s. This is because winters are mild, and large apartment buildings usually require little energy to heat. Backup heat (also used during defrosting) is usually supplied by electric resistance heating, though some homes have hybrid heating units which use gas backup when it is cold. Exurban homes may also use all-electric instead of gas, if gas mains have not been extended to an area.
Cooktops and ovens are a mix of gas and electric, while gas clothes dryers are rather rare. Nearly all homes have a fireplace with a manual-valve gas starter, and some are now equipped with permanent gas logs with electric switch start. Some homes also have natural gas barbecue grills, formerly sold at utility company stores.
Georgia Power is the main electric power company across the state and the metro area, beginning in 1902 as Georgia Railway and Power Company, Atlanta's streetcar (trolley) company. Several electric membership corporations also serve the suburbs. These include the second-largest EMC in the nation in Jackson EMC, Cobb EMC, and Sawnee EMC. The city of Marietta operates its own electric utility, Marietta Power, under the Board of Lights & Water (BLW). It is also a member of the Municipal Electric Association of Georgia (MEAG).
Atlanta Gas Light is the natural gas utility for the region, and has been so for over a century and a half, since it installed gas lamps in Atlanta in 1856. It operated as a regulated monopoly until November 1998, the after the state legislature voted in early 1997 to deregulate natural gas marketing, and make customers choose among nearly 20 different marketers still selling the same AGL-wholesaled gas. Most of the gas comes via pipeline from Louisiana.
Water is provided by various county and a few city systems. Several of these systems actually serve parts of neighboring counties and cities as well. The Cobb-Marietta Water Authority serves not only Cobb, but also parts of neighboring Paulding and Cherokee counties, for example. During drought or other emergency, cities and counties can enact outdoor water-use restrictions, however some cross-jurisdiction water systems have also acted to put bans in place. In late September 2007, the state Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, stepped-in with its first-ever ban, covering most of the northern half of the state. While surface water is by far the primary source of water for the region, the drought had many systems (and a few wealthy homeowners) drilling new wells for ground water, though the local water table is around 400 feet (120 m) deep, on average.
Sewerage is also handled by the water utilities, however the various water and sewer networks may not conform to the same boundaries, resulting in interbasin water transfers. This is for practical reasons, because the area is hilly and divided by several watersheds, because the area has developed irregularly and erratically, and because water treatment plants are usually not near sewage treatment plants. Septic tanks are still used in the older homes of some exurbs.
The low-density residential subdivision development that dominates the metro Atlanta suburbs.
Changes in house prices for the metro area are publicly tracked on a regular basis using the Case–Shiller index; the statistic is published by Standard & Poor's and is also a component of S&P's 20‑city composite index of the value of the U.S. residential real estate market.
Atlanta is a city known across the South for its abundant shopping. The Atlanta area is home to one of the South's largest shopping malls, the Mall of Georgia in Gwinnett County. In the city of Atlanta itself, the iconic shopping destinations are the twin malls in Buckhead: Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza.
Major retailers in the metro area include:
- Supermarket chains: Kroger, Publix, Whole Foods, Food Depot, Aldi, Piggly Wiggly and Ingles
- Drugstores include Rite-Aid, CVS/pharmacy, and Walgreens
- Furniture stores include Havertys, founded 1885, an Atlanta institution and Broyhill Furniture, which bought Rhodes Furniture, another Atlanta institution. They compete against American Signature, Ashley Furniture, Thomasville furniture, Bassett Furniture, IKEA, and Rooms To Go, La-Z-Boy
- Remaining home electronics and appliance stores include Best Buy, and hhgregg
- Home improvement and garden stores include The Home Depot, started and based in metro Atlanta, Lowe's, Ace Hardware, and Pike Family Nurseries
- As far as department stores, Macy’s now runs the former Atlanta chains Rich's and Davison's; also present are J. C. Penney, Sears, Belk, Kohl's,Dillard's,Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Von Maur [ The Rich's Great Tree has been a major local Christmas tradition since the 1940s, with its grand illumination ceremony every Thanksgiving
- Discount stores include Target, Walmart, and Kmart
- Closeout stores include Big Lots, T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, Ross, and Burlington Coat Factory, Bealls Outlet, Ollie's Bargain Outlet
- Dollar stores include Dollar Tree, Dollar General, and Family Dollar,Five Below
- Arts and crafts stores include Michael's, JoAnn, Hobby Lobby (often in former Kmart locations), Old Time Pottery, and four Garden Ridge superstores; Hobby stores include four HobbyTown USA stores (one superstore), Hobby Lobby, and a few independent hobby dealers
- Outdoor recreation stores include REI, Dick's Sporting Goods, The Sports Authority, and Academy Sports, Bass Pro Shop, Cabelas, Gander Mountain, Hibbett Sports
- Shoe-only stores include Payless Shoes, Foot Locker, Famous Footwear, and Designer Shoe Warehouse
- Bookstores are limited to Barnes & Noble Books a Million and a few small local dealers
- Second-hand stores include several Goodwill Industries of North Georgia and a few Salvation Army thrift stores, three America's Thrift Stores, and the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. For-profit local chains which buy and resell higher-quality goods include local chains Abbadabba's and Plato's Closet
The largest shopping centers in metro Atlanta include:
- Arbor Place Mall, Douglasville, the fourth-largest mall in the state of Georgia, and major retail hub in Atlanta's western suburbs. Home to anchor stores Macy's, Belk, Sears, J. C. Penney, and Dillard's.
- Atlantic Station, Midtown Atlanta, a massive redevelopment of a steel mill site including a Dillards, IKEA, Target, Publix, multiplex cinema, hotel, and offices
- Buckhead Atlanta, a mixed-use development under construction in Buckhead, as of 2011 being completed on a more modest scale than originally planned
- Cumberland Mall, Cobb County, once the largest mall in Georgia, now anchored by Costco, Macy's and Sears
- Sugarloaf Mills, Lawrenceville, a large outlet shopping mall located in Gwinnett County
- The Forum at Ashley Park, Newnan, a shopping mall under development just off I‑85 in Coweta County
- The Forum on Peachtree Parkway, a regional shopping mall located in Peachtree Corners
- Greenbriar Mall, southwest Atlanta, a regional mall anchored Macy's, and Burlington Coat Factory
- Gwinnett Place Mall, Duluth
- Lenox Square, Buckhead, a large three-story shopping center with 250 retailers and restaurants. Anchors include Macy's (formerly Rich's), Bloomingdales (formerly Macy's), and Neiman-Marcus. It was the first mall to open in the state of Georgia.
- Mall of Georgia, Buford. It is the largest mall in the state. Anchored by: Belk, Dillard's, J. C. Penney, Macy's, and Nordstrom, and includes more than 200 other stores
- Phipps Plaza, Buckhead, located across Peachtree Street from Lenox Square. This mall is considered Atlanta's most upscale shopping center, with more than 100 stores along with Nordstrom, Belk, and Saks Fifth Avenue as anchor stores
- The Mall at Peachtree Center, downtown Atlanta, with basic necessities for the office crowd
- Mall at Stonecrest, Lithonia
- North DeKalb Mall, Decatur
- North Point Mall, Alpharetta
- Northlake Mall, north DeKalb County
- Perimeter Mall, Dunwoody, is the second-largest shopping mall in Georgia. 200+ stores. Anchored by: Von Maur, Dillard's, Macy's, and Nordstrom.
- Town Center at Cobb, Kennesaw.
- South Point lifestyle center in McDonough
- The Gallery at South DeKalb (South DeKalb Mall), southern DeKalb County
- Southlake Mall, Morrow
- Cobb Galleria, Smyrna
- Underground Atlanta, downtown Atlanta: souvenirs, gifts, novelties, and the like
- The Mall at West End, in the historic West End neighborhood of Atlanta
Lenox Square hosts the Rich's (now Macy's) Great (Christmas) Tree, both major traditions in Atlanta, and seen on TV regionally
The 2010 census counted 5,268,860 people in the 28-county metro area. This was an increase of 1,020,879 versus the same 28-county area in 2000, second only to Houston. The percent increase was 24.0%, second-highest (after Houston) among the nation's ten largest metro areas.
|Race, ethnicity, or
|Pop. 2010||% of total 2010||Pop. 2000[A]||% of total 2000||absolute
|% change 2000-2010[B]|
|Non-Hispanic white only||2,671,757||50.7%||2,447,856||59.5%||223,901||9.1%|
|Asian only and Pacific Islander only||356,956||4.9%||137,640||3.3%||119,316||86.7%|
|Hispanic or Latino of any race||747,400||10.4%||268,851||6.5%||278,549||103.6%|
A Atlanta MSA in 2000 did not include Butts, Dawson, Haralson, Heard, Jasper, Lamar, Meriwether, and Price counties, whose population totalled in 2000: 135,783; in 2010: 156,368 (2.96% of total new 28-county metro)
B Compares the larger 28-county Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta MSA 2010 with a smaller 20‑county Atlanta MSA 2000; however the 8 new counties represent less than 3% of the larger 28‑county metro.
Source: for race and Hispanic population, U.S. Census Bureau 2010 and 2000 census; for foreign-born population: US Census Bureau 2010 and 2000 American Community Surveys; Immigrants in 2010 Metropolitan America, Brookings Institution
Race and ethnicity
White Americans made up 55.4% of metro Atlanta's population, a relative decrease from 63.0% ten years earlier, but still an absolute increase of over 330,000 people. Non-Hispanic whites dropped from 59.5% to 50.7% of the metro's population, increasing by about 224,000 people.
Black Americans are the largest racial minority with 32.4% of the population, up from 28.9% in 2000. The city of Atlanta has long been regarded as a "black mecca" for its role as a center of black education, political power, wealth, and culture. From 2000 to 2010, the geographic disbursement of blacks in Metro Atlanta changed radically. Long concentrated in the city of Atlanta and DeKalb County, the black population there dropped while over half a million African-Americans settled across other parts of the metro area, including approximately 112,000 in Gwinnett County, 71,000 in Fulton outside Atlanta, 58,000 in Cobb, 50,000 in Clayton, 34,000 in Douglas, and 27,000 each in Newton and Rockdale Counties.
|Year||Black pop. in
City of Atlanta
|Black pop. in
|Total black pop.
Atlanta + DeKalb
|Total black pop.
|Proportion of black pop.
in Atlanta + DeKalb
Hispanic Americans are the fastest growing ethnic group. At 10.4% of the metro's population in 2010, versus only 6.5% in 2000, the metro's Hispanic population increased an astounding 109.6%, or 298,459 people, in ten years. Major Hispanic groups include 354,351 Mexicans, 93,337 Puerto Ricans and 77,648 Cubans. All of those groups' populations increased by over 90% in the ten-year period. Of the metro's 299,000-person increase in the Hispanic population from 2000 to 2010, 98,000 came in Gwinnett County, 57,000 in Cobb, 55,000 in Fulton (all but 3,000 outside the city of Atlanta), 20,000 in Hall, and 15,000 in DeKalb County.
The Asian American population also increased rapidly from 2000 to 2010. There were 296,956 Asian-Americans in the metro area in 2010, making up 5.9% of the population. This represented an 87% increase over 2000. The largest Asian groups are 108,980 Indians, 93,870 Korean Americans, 67,660 Chinese, and 66,554 Vietnamese.
Metro Atlanta is increasingly international, with its 916,434 foreign-born residents in 2010, a 69% increase versus 2000. This was the fourth largest rate of growth among the nation's top 100 metros, after Baltimore, Orlando and Las Vegas. The foreign-born proportion of the population went up from 10.3% to 13.6%, and Atlanta moved up from 14th to 12th in ranking of U.S. metro areas with the largest immigrant population by sheer numbers. Still, its 13.6% proportion of immigrants is only the 29th highest of the nation's top 100 metros.
Metro Atlanta's immigrants are more suburban than those of most cities. Out of the top 100 U.S. metros, Atlanta has the 11th highest ratio of the foreign-born living in the suburbs and not in the core city. Atlanta has a few ethnic enclaves such as a Koreatown, and areas such as the Buford Highway Corridor in DeKalb County and parts of Gwinnett County are commercial centers for multiple ethnic communities.
In 1990 Greater Atlanta had the largest Japanese population in the Southeast United States. The Consulate General of Japan in Atlanta estimated that, during that year, 7,500 to 10,000 Japanese lived in Greater Atlanta. Of the metropolitan areas in the Southeast United States, as of 1990 Greater Atlanta had the most extensive education network for Japanese nationals.
In 2008, approximately 83.3% of the population five years and older spoke only English at home, which is roughly 4,125,000 people. Over 436,000 people (8.8%) spoke Spanish at home, making Metro Atlanta the 15th highest number of Spanish speakers among American metropolitan areas (MSAs). Over 193,000 people (3.9%) spoke other Indo-European languages at home. People who speak an Asian language at home numbered over 137,000 and made up 2.8% of the population.
Topography and geology
The area sprawls across the low foothills of the Appalachian Mountains to the north and the Piedmont to the south. The northern and some western suburbs tend to be higher and significantly more hilly than the southern and eastern suburbs. The average elevation is around 1,000 feet (300 m).
The highest point in the immediate area is Kennesaw Mountain at 1,808 ft (551 m), followed by Stone Mountain at 1,686 ft (514 m), Sweat Mountain at 1,640 ft (500 m), and Little Kennesaw Mountain at 1,600 ft (488 m). Others include Blackjack Mountain, Lost Mountain, Brushy Mountain, Pine Mountain, and Mount Wilkinson (Vinings Mountain). Many of these play prominently in the various battles of the Atlanta Campaign during the American Civil War. If the further-north counties are included, Bear Mountain is highest, followed by Pine Log Mountain, Sawnee Mountain, and Hanging Mountain, followed by the others listed above. Stone, Sweat, Bear, and Sawnee are all home to some of the area's broadcast stations.
The area's subsoil is a dense clay soil, colored rusty by the iron oxide present in it. It becomes very muddy and sticky when wet, and hard when dry, and stains light-colored carpets and clothing easily. It also tends to have a low pH, further aggravating gardeners. The fineness of it also means it is easily deposited into streams during heavy rains, creating silt problems where it is exposed due to construction. This transported red soil can be seen downstream on the riverbanks of south Georgia (where the native clay is white), and down to the Florida panhandle (where the native sand is also white). Topsoil is present only in natural forest areas, created by the decomposition of leaf litter.
Earthquakes and fault lines
An extinct fault line called the Brevard Fault runs roughly parallel to the Chattahoochee River, but as its last movements were apparently prehistoric, it is considered extinct and not a threat to the region. Still, minor earthquakes do rattle the area (and all of Georgia) occasionally. One notable one was in April 2003 (magnitude 4.6) coming from the northwest, its epicenter just across the state line in northeastern Alabama. While many people slept through the 5A.M. quake, it caused a minor panic in others completely unaware of what was happening. Similar earthquakes occur in this region called the Eastern Tennessee Seismic Zone, often felt much more widely across the stronger crust of eastern North America as compared to the west. Thus, the 1886 Charleston, South Carolina earthquake was also felt in Atlanta and throughout the Southeast. It caused damage as far as central Alabama and West Virginia. Two small earthquakes were also felt on the southeast side near Eatonton in early April 2009. The New Madrid Seismic Zone (near the Missouri-Tennessee borders) and the seismic zone producing the 1886 magnitude 7.3 earthquake are still capable of producing moderate or major earthquakes, in which the entire Atlanta area will feel moderately or even strongly.
The Atlanta metro area has a humid subtropical climate with four seasons, although summer is the longest. January daily lows average from 32–35 °F (0–2 °C) north to south, and highs range from 48–54 °F (9–12 °C), but often reach well above or below this average. There is an average annual snowfall of about 2.5 inches (6.4 cm), falling mostly from December through March, though there was snow north of the city on April 3, 1987. Snow flurries are actually common during the winter months when there is an especially deep trough in the jet stream. These events usually do not amount to more than a slight dusting and therefore go unrecognized in most weather summaries. Summers, by contrast, are long and consistently hot and humid, with July mornings averaging 71 °F (22 °C) and afternoons averaging 89 °F (32 °C), slight breezes, and typically a 20–40% chance of afternoon thunderstorms. During the summer afternoon thunderstorms, temperatures may suddenly drop to 70-77 degrees with locally heavy rainfall. Average annual rainfall is about 50.2 inches (1,280 mm), with late winter and early spring (as well as July) being the wettest and fall (especially October) being the driest.
From 1878 to 2011, the highest recorded temperatures at Atlanta were 105 °F (40.6 °C) on three days in the extraordinarily hot July 1980, followed by 104 °F (40 °C) that month and in August 2007, the hottest month ever for the area. This was broken on the last day of June 2012, when the temperature reached 106 °F (41.1 °C), during a massive heat wave that hit most of the country, with another 105 the next day tying the July record. The lowest recorded temperatures were −6 °F (−21 °C) and −8 °F (−22 °C) on January 20 and 21 of 1985, and −9 °F (−23 °C) on February 13, 1899, during severe cold snaps that went so far south they devastated the entire citrus industry in central Florida.
Hurricane Opal brought sustained tropical storm conditions to the area one night in early October 1995, uprooting hundreds of trees and causing widespread power outages, after soaking the area with rain for two days prior. Since 1950 some metro counties have been hit more than 20 times by tornadoes, with Cobb (26) and Fulton (22) being two of the highest in the state. The Dunwoody tornado in early April 1998 was the worst tornado to have struck the area. A tornado struck downtown Atlanta in March 2008, causing a half-billion dollars in damage, one of the most expensive storms ever recorded anywhere.
The area experiences a winter storm with significant snowfall about once each year, however this can be extremely irregular. A blizzard (see: 1993 Storm of the Century) caught much of the Southeast off-guard in 1993, dumping 4.5 inches (11.4 cm) at the Atlanta airport on March 13, and much more than that in the suburbs to the north and west, as well as in the mountains. The only other recorded winter storm of comparable severity was the Great Blizzard of 1899. The heaviest snow, however, was in January 1940, when 8.3 inches (21.1 cm) buried the city during its coldest month on record. The second-heaviest was in 1983, when a very late storm dumped 7.9 inches (20.1 cm) on March 24. Ice storms have also occurred in the area. The well-remembered 1973 ice storm was brutal as was the storm in 1982.
The Southeastern U.S. drought of 2006–2008 began with dry weather in 2006, and left area lakes very low. The drought finally began to abate significantly after the 2009 Atlanta floods, when some areas got up to 20 inches (500 mm) of rain in a week, with half of that falling in just 24 hours near the end of the period. The USGS calculated it to be a greater-than-500-year flood.
The area's prolific rains are drained by many different streams and creeks. The main basin is that of the Chattahoochee River, running northeast to southwest. The further northwestern suburbs drain into the Etowah River via the Little River and Lake Allatoona. The southern suburbs are drained by the Flint River, and the east-southeastern ones by the Oconee River and Yellow River.
By 2005 the metro area was using 360 million US gallons (1,400,000 m3) of water per day (about 80 US gallons (300 L) per person per day) from these rivers. This usage was reduced by more than 10% during the drought, but soared back up after watering restrictions were eased (and before the flooding ensued). The need for water is seen as a barrier to further growth in the area, but permanent measures for non-emergency water conservation have never been put in place. The state legislature has refused to pass a requirement for low-flow toilets to be installed in homes that are sold, bowing to pressure from the real estate sales industry.
Disputes over water are becoming increasingly common, with both Alabama and Florida filing lawsuits and threatening injunctions to prevent Georgia from taking too much water, mostly for metro Atlanta. South Carolina also threatened when a pipeline east to the Savannah River was mentioned even informally. The state has now been ordered by a judge to reduce withdrawals from the Chattahoochee south of Lanier to 1970s levels within three years (2012), something that would create an immediate emergency water shortage if it were actually enforced. This was done because it was ruled the U.S. Congress never authorized the use of the lake as a water supply.
The native forest canopy is mainly oak, redbud, hickory, poplar, tuliptree, pine, and sweetgum, with chestnut having been common decades before in what is now considered oak-hickory forest. Traveling from the south, the metro area is generally the first area in which autumn leaf color can be seen, due to the different trees growing at the higher elevation and latitude. Underneath, the flowering dogwood is very common, the black cherry are quite prolific, with mulberry popping up sometimes as well. Sourwood is also in its native range, and is easily identified by the fact that it turns fiery red in early October, much brighter and weeks earlier than most other trees (which usually peak in early November).
Shrubby plants include blackberry, horsechestnut, sumac, and sometimes hawthorn. Virginia creeper, poison ivy, and briar are common vines. The Confederate Yellow Daisy is a wildflower native only to the area around Stone Mountain.
Common garden plants include dogwood, azalea, hydrangea, flowering cherry, maples, pin oak, red-tip photinia, holly, juniper, white pine, magnolia, Bradford pear, forsythia, liriope (mondograss), and English ivy. Lawns can be either cool-season grasses like fescue and rye, or warm-season like zoysia and bermudagrass which turn brown in late fall. A few homeowners associations actually prohibit green grass in the winter.
Native to the nearby mountains, maples are now one of the most common landscape trees for new homes and parking lots, giving their color in the fall instead of spring. When planted close to buildings (which provide shelter and radiate heat), they can retain some of their color into December, especially if November has been warm.
By far the most notorious introduced species is kudzu, a highly invasive species from Japan which climbs and smothers trees and shrubs. New effective herbicides as well as increased development of formerly rural areas has greatly reduced kudzu in the metro area (although still quite common elsewhere in Georgia). Wisteria planted decades ago by farmers in then-rural areas has become wild and is common in undeveloped forests. Some vines exceed 50 years of age and cover dozens of acres of forest, creating a dense, purple explosion each spring. Japanese honeysuckle is extremely common; its fragrance an early summer delight. A common garden plant, the Chinese privet, has escaped to become the state's most invasive non-native plant species.
Among mammals, the eastern gray squirrel is by far the most ubiquitous, stealing birdseed from the bird feeders which many locals maintain. Chipmunks and small brown rabbits are common, but it is relatively rare to hear of them doing any damage. Opossum, raccoons, foxes, and now even small coyotes and armadillos are frequently seen. Garden and meadow snakes are common; three poisonous snakes (Eastern Diamondback, Water Moccasin, Copperhead ) are indigenous, but reports of bites are rare. Many types of frogs, including tree frogs and bullfrogs,are easily heard in early summer, as are cicadas in July and August. Black bears occasionally wander down from the mountains, and white-tailed deer are abundant; overpopulated in some areas. Homeowners in the outer suburbs are prone to landscaping damage due to scavenging deer.
The most common birds are the Brown Thrasher (the GA state bird), American crow, European (or common) starling, American robin, mourning dove, house sparrow, northern cardinal, purple finch, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, bluejay, white-breasted nuthatch, eastern bluebird, mockingbird, brown-headed nuthatch, and the Carolina wren. Birds of prey thrive in the area, with three varieties of hawks common near open fields in even the most populated areas. Falcons roost on skyscrapers in downtown Atlanta and can be regularly seen feasting on pigeons. The American kestrel is sometimes seen. Late in the year, three species of owls can be heard nightly in wooded areas. Various woodpeckers can be seen in forested lots, including the red-bellied woodpecker, northern flicker (also known as the "red-shafted flicker"), and the downy woodpecker. The red-headed woodpecker is common in open fields and on golf courses. The American goldfinch is present mostly in winter, and the ruby-throated hummingbird only in summer.
Atlanta has always been a railroad town, and the city once had an extensive streetcar system around the city, and which also provided interurban service as far out as Marietta, 15 miles (24 km) to the northwest. The streetcars were replaced by an extensive trolleybus system, supplemented by buses, in the 1940s and 1950–52, and then converted to all buses in the 1950s and 1960-62. However, building out a modern rapid transit system proved a difficult and drawn-out process and, compared to the original plans for a regional system, has only partially been accomplished.
MARTA operates rapid transit in Fulton and Dekalb counties, while Cobb, Gwinnett, and Clayton counties operate their own buses with no current rail transit. This is a result of those counties' refusal to join the MARTA system, a situation which was originally closely related to white flight from the city. It is the only U.S. system in which the state does not provide any funds for operation or expansion, instead relying entirely on a 1% sales tax in its two counties.
Plans are underway for commuter rail and bus rapid transit (BRT), though these are some years away. The $20 billion Northwest Corridor HOV/BRT project appears to conflict with other plans, such as the metro-wide Concept 3 approved by the Transit Planning Board, and the no-barrier HOT lanes on I‑85 in Gwinnett. MARTA is also considering a BRT line of its own to the east.
The first commuter rail line would run south of the city, eventually extended to Lovejoy and possibly Hampton near Atlanta Motor Speedway. The "Brain Train" would likely be the second route, connecting the University of Georgia in Athens to Emory University and Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
As planned, all commuter trains would arrive at the Atlanta Multimodal Passenger Terminal (MMPT), the long-delayed facility just across Peachtree Street from the Five Points MARTA station, where all of its lines meet. The planning for the system, and its extension as intercity rail across the state, is the responsibility of the Georgia Rail Passenger Authority.
Another proposed plan that has received very strong grassroots support in recent years is the BeltLine, a greenbelt and transit system that takes advantage of existing and unused rail tracks to set up a 22‑mile light rail or streetcar circuit around the core of Atlanta, as well as establishing more green space and foot paths for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Before Atlanta was even a city, it was a railroad hub. From this came the joke, popular among other Southerners, that "regardless of whether one goes to heaven or hell, everyone must go through Atlanta first". Many of its suburbs pre-date it as depots or train stations along the major lines in and out of town.
Many of these historic stations, including Atlanta's Union Station and Terminal Station, were demolished like many county courthouses and other historic buildings. Many have been saved however, including the L&N station in Woodstock, and the stations along the main W&A line in Marietta and Smyrna.
Through mergers, the main railroads in the area are now Norfolk Southern and CSX. The Georgia Northeastern Railroad is a short line that also services part of the area. There are also several railyards of Atlanta and vicinity, as well as the Southeastern Railway Museum and the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History.
The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, more commonly known as Amtrak, runs the intercity rail line Crescent through metro Atlanta twice daily, with one train heading towards New Orleans and the other headed towards New York. All trains make a scheduled stop at Peachtree Station in northern Midtown Atlanta, but it is also possible for arrange for trains to stop in Gainesville, Georgia as well.
Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the only international airport for the region (and only major international airport for the state), and as with rail travel, it became the ubiquitous place through which everyone must travel at some point. Atlanta's second airport is in the very preliminary discussion and study phase.
Other airports (maintained by local counties) include Charlie Brown Field (Fulton), McCollum Field (Cobb), Cartersville Airport, DeKalb Peachtree Airport, Briscoe Field (Gwinnett), Coweta County Airport, Cherokee County Airport, and Tara Field (Henry). Former local airports were Stone Mountain Airport and Parkaire Field, among others.
Roads and freeways
Atlanta is served by three major interstate highways. Including tributaries, they are the following:
(Note: The cities used below are also the control cities used for the Metro Atlanta Bypass/I-285 signs entering from the suburbs.)
Interstate 75 passes through from Macon to the south, and from Chattanooga to the north. Interstate 575 is a spur which merges with I‑75 near Kennesaw. I‑575 serves northeast portions of Cobb County and a large portion of Cherokee County. It ends in Ball Ground. Interstate 675 is a route which connects I‑75 in Henry County to I‑285 in southern Dekalb County. Most of the corridor is within Clayton County.
Interstate 85 passes through from Montgomery on the southwest and from Greenville on the northeast. I-75 merges with I-85 to form the Downtown Connector from the Brookwood Interchange, just north of Midtown Atlanta, to just south of the Lakewood Freeway in south Atlanta. Interstate 185 is a spur which merges with I‑85 in LaGrange and stretches southward to Columbus. Interstate 985 is a spur which merges with I‑85 in Suwanee and serves the northern suburbs of Gwinnett and Hall Counties. It terminates just northeast of Gainesville.
Interstate 20 passes through from Birmingham to the west and from Augusta to the east. It serves Douglasville, the major suburb west of Atlanta. It serves Lithonia and Conyers to the east.
Atlanta is also served by several other freeways, in addition to the interstate highways, including:
Georgia 400 is the main corridor serving the north-central suburbs, and the only toll road in the metropolitan Atlanta area. It reaches into the northern portion of Fulton County and gradually turns northeast before entering Forsyth County. The controlled-access portion terminates just northeast of the city of Cumming. To the south, it terminates and merges into southbound I‑85 just south of the Buckhead business district. Cumming/Dahlonega is used on I‑285 as the northbound sign, and Atlanta/Buckhead as the southbound. From I‑85 northbound, it uses Buckhead/Cumming.
Stone Mountain Freeway, or U.S. 78, is an 8‑mile corridor east of Downtown Atlanta and the neighboring suburb of Decatur. It serves northeast portions of Dekalb County, including the city of Stone Mountain. It continues east as a divided highway into south Gwinnett County, including the suburb of Snellville. U.S. 78 also stretches east to Athens.
Lakewood Freeway, or Georgia 166, extends between Lakewood Park in south Atlanta and Campbellton Road, just west of I‑285.
Peachtree Industrial Blvd, or Georgia 141, is a route north-northeast of Atlanta which begins on the north side of I‑285 and runs parallel to I‑85 for about four miles until it terminates when it splits into GA‑141 and Peachtree Industrial (continuing as a normal divided highway).
Georgia State Route 316 is a four-mile-long route that branches from I‑85 and stretches eastward into Gwinnett County. It continues east as a normal divided highway through the suburb of Lawrenceville and on to Athens.
Owing to the area's long history of settlement and uneven terrain, most arterial roads are not straight but meander instead, which can be confusing as much as the famed proliferation of Atlanta streets with "Peachtree" in the name. It is also often joked that half the streets are named Peachtree, while the other half have several names to make up for it.
Partly, confusion is because the region maintains the historic nomenclature of each county naming its roads for the towns they connect with in surrounding counties. Thus, from Dallas to Roswell, Georgia 120 is Marietta Highway to the Paulding/Cobb county line, is Dallas Highway to the city of Marietta, Whitlock Avenue to the town square, South Park Square for just one city block, Roswell Street to Cobb Parkway (at the Big Chicken), Roswell Road to the Cobb/Fulton county line, and finally Marietta Street to the town square in Roswell. Further confusion is from the arbitrary location of state routes by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), so that they travel an erratic path requiring several turns by drivers instead of traveling the original straight route; and the renaming of roads by state legislators to honor their friends.
There are many roads like this throughout the area, leading to duplication of names in different counties. In Fulton, "Roswell Road" refers to Georgia 9 through northern Atlanta and across Sandy Springs, in addition to the above-mentioned use in Cobb, for example. Numeric street addressing is done by county as well, with the origin usually being at one corner of the town square in the county seat. The U.S. Postal Service ignores these actual and logical boundaries however, overlapping ZIP codes and their associated place names across counties. The Cumberland/Galleria area has Cobb's numbers and an "SE" suffix, but is called "Atlanta" by the USPS (despite being Vinings, which the USPS ironically calls "unacceptable"), which can confuse visitors to think it is far away in southeast Atlanta.
Where more than one town in the same county has a road to the same place, the smaller towns have their own name prefixed to it, while the county seat does not. The road need not go directly to the other place, but may connect through other roads. Examples include Due West Road west from Marietta, Kennesaw Due West Road southwest from Kennesaw, and Acworth Due West Road south from Acworth. Some are usually hyphenated, like Peachtree-Dunwoody Road, Ashford-Dunwoody Road, Chamblee-Dunwoody Road, and Chamblee-Tucker Road.
There are also several roads named for communities which have been overwhelmed by the urban and suburban sprawl, and so are somewhat odd to newcomers. These include Sandy Plains, Crabapple, Toonigh, Luxomni, and Due West. Some of these communities are in the middle of the road, while some are at or very near one end. Some areas are renamed, either over time (Sandy Plains gradually became "Sprayberry" when Sprayberry High School moved there and similarly named shopping centers popped up around it); by the USPS (Toonigh is identified as "Lebanon"), or after rapid development. (Hog Mountain is now "Hamilton Mill"). In such cases, the roads usually maintain their historic names even if the neighborhoods do not.
Several of these roads have become arterials, while others remain pleasant two-lane drives. Many are state roads as well, though GDOT has the habit of moving numbered routes onto other roads, without public input, and occasionally sending them through an entirely different town. State highway numbers also tend to curve around arbitrarily while their directional signs do not, rendering them useless where they indicate "north" and "south" in places the road goes east and west. There are also a few U.S. highways that cross the area, including 19, 23, 29, 41, and 78.
Other arterials are completely new, like much of Barrett Parkway and South Fulton Parkway, both constructed by their counties but partly covered with a state route number. Occasionally, roads are realigned or extended to meet each other directly at a cross-road, leading to odd curves and name changes.
The above-listed counties are included in the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Gainesville CSA (Bold counties are also in the somewhat smaller Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta MSA ); however most other entities define a much smaller metropolitan area by including only the counties which have the densest suburban development. Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Cobb, and Clayton were the five original counties when the Atlanta metropolitan area was first defined in 1950, and continue to be the core of the metro area. These five counties along with five more (Cherokee, Douglas, Fayette, Henry and Rockdale) are members of the Atlanta Regional Commission, a weak metropolitan government agency which also is a regional planning agency. The ten ARC counties and five more (Bartow, Coweta, Hall, Forsyth, Paulding) are part of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, created in 2001. The 14 counties listed above with under 60,000 residents are usually not included in any other metropolitan definition except the OMB/Census Bureau's CSA. Hall County was originally the Gainesville, GA Metropolitan Statistical Area, but with astronomical growth to over 180,000 residents, is now part of the Atlanta CSA. The official tourism website of the State of Georgia features a "Metro Atlanta" tourism region that includes only nine counties: Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Cobb, Clayton, Coweta, Douglas, Fayette, and Henry.
Major edge cities (from Atlanta edge cities)
More than one half of metro Atlanta's population is in unincorporated areas or areas considered a census-designated-place (CDP) by the census bureau. Metro Atlanta includes the following incorporated and unincorporated suburbs (both inside and outside Atlanta), exurbs, and surrounding cities, sorted by population:
Cities and suburbs
- Atlanta pop. 420,003
Places with 75,000 to 99,999 inhabitants
Places with 50,000 to 74,999 inhabitants
Places with 25,000 to 49,999 inhabitants
- Dunwoody pop. 46,267
- Brookhaven (North Atlanta) pop. 40,456
- Mableton (CDP) pop. 37,115
- Peachtree City pop. 34,364
- Peachtree Corners pop. 34,274
- Gainesville pop. 33,804
- East Point pop. 33,712
- Newnan pop. 33,039
- Redan (CDP) pop. 33,015
- Milton pop. 32,661
- Douglasville pop. 30,961
- Kennesaw pop. 29,783
- Lawrenceville pop. 28,546
- Tucker (CDP) pop. 27,581
- Duluth pop. 26,660
- Stockbridge pop. 25,636
Places with 24,999- inhabitants
- Carrollton pop. 24,388
- Woodstock pop. 23,896
- Griffin pop. 23,643
- Candler-McAfee (CDP) pop. 23,025
- Canton pop. 22,958
- McDonough pop. 22,084
- Acworth pop. 20,425
- Cartersville pop. 19,731
- Union City pop. 19,456
- Decatur pop. 19,335
- North Druid Hills (CDP) pop. 18,947
- Sugar Hill pop. 18,522
- Forest Park pop. 18,468
- Snellville pop. 18,242
- North Decatur (CDP) pop. 16,698
- Fayetteville pop. 15,945
- Suwanee pop. 15,355
- Conyers pop. 15,195
- Belvedere Park (CDP) pop. 15,152
- Riverdale pop. 15,134
- Druid Hills (CDP) pop. 14,568
- Winder pop. 14,099
- Villa Rica pop. 13,956
- College Park pop. 13,942
- Powder Springs pop. 13,940
- Monroe pop. 13,234
- Covington pop. 13,118
- Fairburn pop. 12,950
- Buford pop. 12,225
- Lilburn pop. 11,596
- Mountain Park (Gwinnett) (CDP) pop. 11,554
- Loganville pop. 10,458
- Chamblee pop. 9,892
- Panthersville (CDP) pop. 9,749
- Vinings (CDP) pop. 9,734
- Thomaston pop. 9,170
- Norcross pop. 9,116
- Doraville pop. 8,330
- Clarkston pop. 7,554
- Braselton pop. 7,511
- Irondale (CDP) pop. 7,446
- Centerville (CDP) pop. 7,148
- Hampton pop. 6,987
- Auburn (CDP) pop. 6,887
- Tyrone (CDP) pop. 6,879
- Barnesville pop. 6,775
- Austell pop. 6,581
- Morrow pop. 6,445
- Lovejoy pop. 6,422
- Hapeville pop. 6,373
- Conley (CDP) pop. 6,228
- Stone Mountain pop. 5,802
- Flowery Branch pop. 5,679
- Cumming pop. 5,430
- Jonesboro pop. 4,724
- Palmetto pop. 4,448
- Dacula pop. 4,442
- Bonanza (CDP) pop. 3,135
- Lakeview Estates (CDP) pop. 2,695
- Lake City pop. 2,612
- Lithonia pop. 1,924
- Berkeley Lake pop. 1,574
Community improvement districts
All of Georgia's community improvement districts are located in metro Atlanta.
- Buckhead Community Improvement District, covering Buckhead 
- Perimeter Center Community Improvement Districts, covering the Perimeter Center area of Sandy Springs and Dunwoody 
- Cumberland Community Improvement District, around Cumberland Mall  and including parts of Vinings, Smyrna, and Marietta
- Town Center Area Community Improvement District, around Town Center at Cobb mall 
- Gwinnett Place Community Improvement District, around Gwinnett Place Mall 
- Gwinnett Village Community Improvement District, also in Gwinnett county southeast of Norcross 
- Evermore Community Improvement District, or Highway 78 Community Improvement District, covering part of the U.S. 78 corridor in Gwinnett near Snellville 
- Lilburn Community Improvement District, established early 2010 in Lilburn
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